The Joyous Melody
By: Tiaku Altergrund
Our Story is not about a Peasant who became rich, nor is it about some happily ever after. Nae, it is about an object, one which many people in the area still enjoy today. You see, the world is so full of saddening tales of fallen heroes or captured princesses that I thought I would take the time to tell you a tale of a time when something caused great joy through nothing more then its existence.
Our story begins in a small German town about an hour's horse ride from Hamburg. It was 1654 AD, and there was a older gentleman who loved to make pianos. The craftsmanship of his pianos drew in Furs from around the world. The piano maker was an old Owl named Fredric Von Hohenstaufen. His feathers, once a magnificent gold with dark brown and snow white accents, were now faded to a grayed out eggshell and tan. Fredric stood about 5 foot 8 inches and weighed around 167 pounds and was portly, though he had never really been all too fit. Wisdom filled his eyes and face, giving those who spoke with him comfort in what they knew or wished to know.
His shop was established when he was 23 after having ended his apprenticeship with a master piano smith. Made of Pine and Oak, the shop had a homely and soothing scent, adorned with various materials and items. Two Pianos sat in the main area of the shop. One was black and small while the other was a grand sight to behold. Ivory keys, each hand painted to the appropriate color, tall with a padded seat whose cloth was as smooth as silk. Fredric took great pride in making pianos for all kinds of people and the two in the shop were prime examples of just how well he could make them. The smaller cheaper looking one sounded just as amazing as the extravagant one, and everyone in town knew it.
Regularly, a local boy no older then five came into the shop, sat down at the cheaper of the pianos, and tried to play a tune. Standing a mere two feet tall, he was the spitting image of a mouse. His ears were so attuned to the pianos that he could hear the smallest of flaws in each note he played. He was very poor and had always dreamed of owning one of Fredric's pianos. He was a rather shy fellow, but Fredric loved that boy so. One day while the child was playing the piano Fredric asked, "Would you like to learn to play this piano properly?"
Shocked by being approached by Fredric, the boy jumped up and fell backwards, hitting his head on the wall behind him. "OUCH!" he shouted. "I beg thy forgiveness, I will be going my way. I have not the money to pay you for such lessons. I wouldst not want to seem a beggar."
Fredric was moved by the boy's humility. "You have been coming in here for months trying to play this piano. You listen so intently and can hear your own mistakes that others would not even notice. If anyone hast earned the right to lessons on how to play one of my glorious instruments, it would be thee."
"No," the boys insisted, "I am but a meager pauper. What would a noble such as thee want with me? I am unworthy of thy kindness, good sir."
Once again the boy refused, "What is thy name young one? If you will not learn to play from me, then another teacher will instruct you. Thou hast such talent, why wouldst thou keep it from the world?"
"I am known as Fritz. You once more insist upon my instruction, despite my talent being nothing more then subharmonic refuge."
Fredric replied to this show of honesty with further wisdom, saying, "Artists never see their creations as what one wouldst consider grand. It takes the words of others to make thee feel accomplished. You bring great joy to me when you play, and I wish to repay that kindness, young Fritz."
"What sort of Noble would want to teach a pauper", thought Fritz to himself. "I need to think upon what you have said, kind noble. Your words...they mean so much but I cannot just accept. Please, give me thy leave so that I might think through this."
"Come back when thou hast fully considered mine offer," Fredric said as he dismissed Fritz.
The next few days were troubling as Fredric began to feel the effects of his age catching up with him. It was on the day that Fritz returned and accepted the offer for piano lesson that Fredric decided to build one final piano. This one would be his greatest work. This piano is I, your narrator.
Mine earliest days were filled with small things, amounting to not much more then a leg being carved slowly and carefully, as if a mother were raising a most beloved child. Each leg was crafted from the wood of a tree which had been growing in yonder woods south of town for nearly two centuries. It was six months before the first leg was finished, but it was a sight to behold. Intricate carvings of a song were begun upon it. Furthermore, there were inscriptions of various holy objects and saints. Each of the other legs continued this song, and when the boy had finished his second year of instruction, my legs were ready.
During the second year of Piano lessons for Fritz, Fredric carved my body. This wood came from India. So fine was the wood's conductive properties for sound that the very sound of Fredric crafting it into my body sung out like a choir of angles to the village. Many rich nobles came to the shop seeking to buy me when the heard the news that Fredric was crafting one final instrument, but he refused them all saying, "If you can complete this piano once I am dead, then it is yours. Until that time it shall stay with me and this boy." Never speaking of this to Fritz, Fredric had been planning on giving to him.
Fritz was nearing the end of his tutelage, and I was in the process of getting my strings prepared, tempered, and strung. This process took six and a half years to complete. Each string itself took just under one month to create and tie down. When finished, Fritz Apprenticed Fritz as his heir to the business of piano making.
Once more, a wealthy individual came to the shop, demanding the piano that was being produced. Fredric refused. The man was a rather imposing Boar, standing a good six feet tall. His body was sculpted as if to be made of stone, and his tone was incredibly forceful.
"In the name of the pope, I ORDER you to turn over the piano to us!" he bellowed.
"If you can complete this piano once I am dead, then, and only then, shall the pope have this piano," Fredric replied. He words were more calm then a lake at the morning's dawn. Tranquillity filled his gaze as he knew that the boar would not be the one to take his life.
"Your impudence will be your undoing. If you do not wish to be excommunicated I suggest you do as the pope demands. Your piano is a gift from God, and it shall be a holy marker in the Cathedral in Rome!"
"'Tis not. Were it a gift form God, I wouldst have been visited by an angle. Wouldst thou deny that God hath given unto this world gifts that thy pope hast not demanded?"
"Nae, but thou shalt comply."
"Bring thy pope here. If he truly wishes to deny my work to those most deserving, then let the will of God make itself known unto to me by the pope's own hand."
Angrily, the boar left the building, swearing that the pope would come for the piano one day. However, Fredric simply returned to work on me.
Later that day, Fritz asked, "Why didst thou deny the pope his wish?"
All that Fredric could say was that "Those in this world most deserving of such gifts are those who ask for nothing but give everything, as is decreed in the Bible."
Fritz was confused by this. However, he returned to his pianistic studies, not knowing what was to happen. I was still incomplete at this time,and Fredric's time was running out.
Knowing he would not be alive in five years, he decided to mark his age upon death by leaving one key on me incomplete. The last three years of Fredric's life were filled with constant harassment from the church attempting to claim me for their own greedy purposes. Still, Fredric refused each and every one of them. The day before his death, Fredric placed the 87th key on to me saying, "Fritz my young apprentice, wilts thou fulfil my final wishes?"
"Yes! Whatever it is that you wish as upon thy death bed, I shalt carry out to the greatest that I can. Whatever it takes, I shall see that your dying words are honored for all time!"
Fredric spoke once more, coughing dangerous amounts of blood, "I want you to build a gazebo at the center of town and bury me under it."
"Of course! No man, woman, or child in this town would refuse this of you." Fritz said mournfully.
"Then I want you to place the Piano there. Make sure that no harm or hand comes to take it from that spot. Be it the taint of time or the hands of the greedy, none must move this piano till the day it is completed."
"Of course. I will honor this till the day that I die. Who will be the one to complete it?"
"You have learned everything that can be known about making a piano, however the final key that must be made is not yet ready to be made. You will know who shall complete this when you see them." At this time Fredric's heart began to fail. "Please hurry...my time..is almost up. Help me to my shop so that I can play one final song."
Racing to the Shop, Fritz sat Fredric down at my bench, and Fredric's last song was played upon my keys. The sound of it echoed throughout the village as if being carried by a thousand elephants. I sounded divine. Fritz was placed into a euphoric state due to the utterly perfect nature of the sound that I was emitting. The same nature of my being played even made me feel as if I was more then just a piano. I felt a living connection to my pianist and he to me. I could feel the very memories of his life flowing though his hands and into my strings. Each stroke of his hands make the sound more and more sublime, and when it was finished Fredric simply fell back into Fritz's arms and passed away to heaven.
The man had created me to live forever, the greatest piano to ever exist, and everyone in the village finally realized that.
The day of the funeral, I brought to town square. The stone cobble was separated from me by a thick wooden plank and the finest silk they had in the whole area. Fritz sat upon my Bench and played a tune. Once more I could feel his very memories flow through me and into the very fibers of the wood and string that constructed me. I did not want such a perfect pianist to leave. Mortal though he was, I could not bear to have a man so dedicated and loyal to his teacher, a man so divine a pianist, so perfect a soul to leave until his oath was fulfilled.
That night as I lay in the shop with Fritz vigilant through the night, I attempted to pray. "Dear Lord who art in heaven, please hear my plea. This man before me in this most holy shop hast pledged his life to my protections and upkeep till the day I am finished. My creator placed so much into me that I feel that a soul has been given to me as if I were this guardian's child. I ask that you give this man longevity so that his oath may one day be fulfilled. Dear Lord who is loving and good, please give Fritz that which I cannot. In your name I ask this. Amen."
Later that evening an Angel descended and spoke to me saying, "Thou who hast born a soul of the will of others, your wishes to protect this man who guards you is pure. So long as he plays you once a day, you shall keep him alive by your existence. You life and his shall be bound as one. Should one fail in their oath so shall the other. Do you offer your soul and existence to allow the one you so love to fulfill his oath?"
"I do" was all I said and with that I was filled with something truly divine. The next day Fritz sat down and played his daily drills. Again the same sensations passed through each of us as normal, but this time there was something more to it. Something I could not quite relate to words, but nonetheless, it was there.
As the gazebo was finished and closed to the effects of weather, I was moved there. On that Day the pope arrived to try and claim me once more. Fritz stood at guard to keep me where I lay and said, "You shall not have this piano. You do not bear the final key."
One of the Cardinals spoke to him furiously, shouting, "Who are you to question the will of GOD!?"
"I am the one bound by oath to protect this instrument from all who would abuse it."
"No man has right to bind his soul to an object!" shouted another Cardinal.
"I shalt hold mine oath true till the day I die or the piano is complete." The same tranquillity and calm that had filled Fredric when the boar had came for me once again filled Fritz as he stood protecting his oath and me.
Yet another of the cardinals shouted at him. This time yelling, "Then we ORDER you, by the power given to us by GOD, to finish yonder Piano!"
"This I cannot do!"
"Why not?!" screamed several cardinals in unison.
"I have not the supplies to make the key."
The pope raised his hand and the Cardinals all silenced. "What is it that you require to make the key to finish this Holy piano? Whatever it is, I shall have the church bring it to thee, and then we shalt take this to Rome where you shall be its attendant."
"I know not what was used to make the keys. Any material that is not a perfect match to what was used will corrupt the sound of this piano."
Maddened by Fritz's defiance of the church, the pope ordered Fritz killed on the spot for being a heretic and me destroyed. At that time, I realized what the angle had meant, for when they tried to execute Fritz, the blade shattered upon striking Fritz's flesh. Awe-struck by this, the cardinals Claimed demons to be at work and the Village destroyed.
"Not until we hear one final song," demanded Fritz.
"As many of thy kinsfolk are innocent of thy crimes I shall permit the one final song." declared the pope. As Fritz began to play the song inscribed upon my legs and body, a light began to glow from the Gazebo. Radiating outward, it filled all those present with a warm and forgiving feeling. It was the knowledge that it was the will of God that I remain here in this village. From that day forward, no one ever sought to remove me from my home again.
Decades passed, and Fritz kept his daily routines, and I continued to fill the lives of the villagers with hope and joy. Each day passed by as quickly as the last until the day that noble came to the town to try and purchase me. He was not like the others before him. Fritz, wary of such people, asked, "What seekest thou? Why hast thou come here?"
"I have come to play thy piano. The myth of a holy piano blessed by God, with a sound so grand that it can heal even the deepest sorrows. I seek to know the truth of this." He was a stout gentleman, around five feet three inches tall. Canine in appearance, he bore a tabard of his king.
"I know that you seek to play this instrument, but why do you seek to play this instrument. What is it which thoust desires from this most holy of pianos?"
"My lord is ill and riddled with regret. If I could play this in his courts, he would know joy once more. Please, I will give you whatever you ask."
"You show loyalty to a dying lord, yet you ask nothing for yourself. This man must have shown you great kindness to inspire such loyalty in you. I will not grant your request, as I am bound by oath to keep this piano here; however, I will teach you a song to play for thy lord which will inspire the joy you seek for him."
"What dost thou ask for in return, good sir? I shan't accept this without giving thee something in return," replied the noble wolf.
"Can you give me a key that will sound perfect for this piano?" Fritz asked.
"I know not where to find such an item," he replied.
This saddened Fritz for no more than a moment. Raising his head in determination to fulfill his oath he replied, "Then you need only pass on the story of this piano to all that you meet. That is how you can repay thy debt to me."
The next few weeks were filled much music, each day teaching the wolf a piece of the song inscribed upon my body. I could read his memories. They were filled with many joyous occasions and little strife. From birth, he had been raised by his lord to be a knight, and by his own will, this wolf chose to accept this kindness. His life had been good, and he sought nothing more then to help the man who had given him such a good life. Loyalty like this had not been seen since the days of Athose, Porthose, and Arimus. More and more, I grew attached to this wolf whose loyalty and devotion knew not limits. In this time, names were never exchanged, and each time it came up, Fritz simple refused to grant the answers.
` When Fritz felt that the wolf had learned the meaning of the music that was taught, Fritz asked, "Do you now understand the truth of this song?"
"Yes, I do," the wolf replied.
"Go forth and play this song for thy lord and see the joy return to him. Before you leave, you have earned the honor of knowing my name."
"But first my name. It is Ludwig Gretzen," replied the wolf.
"Mine is Fritz."
Shocked by the name, Ludwig asked, "How is this possible? You were proclaimed dead twenty four year past."
"God hast chosen to keep me here till mine oath tis fulfilled. Now fulfill thy oath to thine lord and bring him joy." With that, Ludwig left.
The day of his return, Ludwig played the song taught to him by Fritz, and a smile crossed his lord's face for the first time in six years. I was not the key to the power of my music, but it was, in fact, the music itself. This news of the king's returning health only fueled my legend. It would not be until World War Two that I would see a new pianist once more.
During the time in which my home had become the prosperous city is today, Fritz stood by at the Gazebo protecting me, Fredric's grave, and myself. The gazebo and piano shop were all that was left of the 17th century city that two men made a home out of, and as the Nazi regime condemned more and more Jewish people, a mother fled from them seeking shelter.
Her name was Ulrika von Wurfel, and a mother of three beautiful children. She was fleeing the Nazis who sought to send her to a concentration camp. She had also heard my legend and sought to use my power to save her children.
Upon arival Fritz again asked, "What seekest thou? Why hast thou come here?"
Ulrika resopnded, "Please let me play this piano so that I may save my children. The Nazis come for us today, and I must use its power to save them. I have heard legends that this piano can quell even the most powerful hate and bring peace to anyone. You must let me save my children! I will give you anything you ask!" Her please were pure and filled with a love that had not been seen since Romeo and Juliet.
This show of unyielding affection and love for her children moved Fritz. Responding to this love, he said, "The love thoust harbors for thine children is pure and true. Your plea shalt be fulfilled. Come, I must hither and prepare for thy new life with me."
"What do you mean?" said Ulrika following Fritz to the Piano shop.
"Until the Nazis are convinced beyond any and all scrutiny you shall pose as my wife and you children shall be raised as my own."
"This is too much. You risk your own life for ours. Why?"
"Because I am tasked to guard that piano till it is completed."
Ulrika questioned Frits further by asking, "What would you ask of us in return?"
"Do you bear a key to finish this piano?"
"No we were stripped of any and all valuables, we have nothing more then the cloths on our backs."
"Then spread word of this piano when you are once again safe. This is all I shall ask."
Each day Ulrika became more and more Fritz's wife, and the children came to call him father. Once the Nazis were convinced of the legitimacy of the marriage, Ulrika began to learn how to play my keys. Her story was one of pure suffering. Segregated from the rest of her town by her creed and forced to live in inhuman conditions, she had ducked from farm to farm. Eating rotting leftovers and giving what little good food to her children had weakened her body and spirit, but as she played my keys she grew stronger as a person, and I grew more attached to her. Three months of lessons about my song came and went, but still she did not understand what it meant. Then a fateful day arrived.
An inquisitor of the Nazi regime arrived demanding the execution of Ulrika, her children and Fritz. Ulrika ran to me and began reading the song once more. Though she was not even playing my keys, I could feel the fear rushing from her hands. Then as if to have died, the fear stopped and the emotions faded. She had been shot and killed.
Her child who had been watching the lessons began to play the song inscribed on me. This child knew what it meant. As he played the song the violence which had filled the air stopped. Once more a holy aura filled the air, and purified the hate from the hearts of those around me. In those minutes of music everyone knew what compassion was. The inquisitor was moved by the kindness of a man to sacrifice his life for four strangers.
Falling to his knees crying over what he had done, I could once more feel the emotions of those in area, but the one that was most prominent was the child's. His heart was filled with such sadness and pain from the loss of his mother. All I could do is listen to myself and help him understand through my notes. When the song had finished Fritz approached the child saying, "Thou who hast known love most pure, thou have suffered so much that you knew that which music truly means. Thou shalt learn the art of Piano construction, and thy siblings shall continue to live with me till you are all of age. " Once more I would wait for decades for a new pianist to understand what my song truly meant.
The years came and went, and Fritz was beginning to show signs of his age. There was one last person who would understand my song, and he would be the one to free Fritz of his oath.
The year was 1989 and the new year was on its way. A child whose family had been in my home since I was created suffered a great fire, losing everything in a single night. Bed riddled with severe burns, Fritz played my tune for all to hear. This man had been a good friend of Fritz since he was a child, and his family had payed for piano lessons from Fritz.
He was hard pressed and pauperized now, he dug through his now ash pile of a home looking for anything to tie to his memories. In his home he found a single piece of misshapen wood. Searching for a new home on foot, he eventually had to return here upon his eighteenth birthday, which was also the same day Fredric had died.
Fritz was in a powered wheelchair now, because his time had come. The now grown man asked Fritz to examine the one relic from the now removed home he once lived in. Out stretching his hand Fritz and I both knew what it was. It was my missing key, and the key to Fritz's oath.
"Please...help me to the gazebo. My time...Has come." Fritz said wheezing painfully.
"You have given so much to this city. This is less then what we owe you." Replied the man.
Once at the gazebo, Fritz used the last of his might to place the final key into my empty socket, which had been barren for more then 300 years. When it was in place, Fritz played my melody once more, and, just as Fredric before him, passed away into the arms of the man who had brought him such peace, saying, "My last will is that you, the true owner of this piano, the one who suffered the greatest sorrow of all, to have had everything and lost it, to know true joy and sadness, love and hate, strength and weakness, power and helplessness. You are the heir to the man whom I gave true peace. Take comfort in knowing that the truth of music is not that it exists to entertain but that it exists to tell stories of those before you and to heal those in need."
"You need not worry, Fritz, I have returned to grant you peace after you stood so vigilant. You have repaid my kindness to you back one thousand fold. Sleep well, Fritz. I, Fredric, have come home."
To this day, I remain in that gazebo, offering comfort through song to all who care to understand. For those who wish to be at peace, look no further then the music that you make in your daily life because in the end, "Even the simplest of sounds can as great as the sound of a perfect piano."